Wow, what a week.
I normally try not to get political when I write these newsletters (although it could be argued that, as a writer of fiction primarily with a queer bent, my work is inherently political). I like to have a focus, and that’s usually on the things I write, the things I teach about writing, how to help other people write, and why I write.
And then this week happened, and well, you know. Now I’m trying to figure out where writing fits into a landscape that looks like it could very easily collapse.
A lot of people might be surprised to hear that I consider myself an optimist. (Hey, stop laughing. No, really. I said stop.) I think that’s surprising mainly because I’m also pretty curmudgeonly. A curmudgeonly optimist? Is that a thing?
In any case, that sense of optimism has been sorely tested already over the past year. I think the last week pretty much shattered it. Which is not to say that I’m surprised at how the election turned out. Never underestimate the ability of a group of paranoid, prejudiced people to make poor choices.
So now I’ve started asking myself, in a climate like this, what’s the point of writing stories?
photo by Aaron Burden
Beyond just the fact that writing is in my nature, I write stories to entertain and also to figure things out for myself about the world, and I share them because I hope they’ll resonate with other people. And that maybe they’ll be worth reading tomorrow.
So what’s a good story for tomorrow, or the day after that?
The other day, I tried to actively engage with someone on the other side of that political divide through social media. To try to speak to her in a way that might make her acknowledge the people on this side of the divide as human beings. I’ll admit, I’m not trying to empathize with her. I have no empathy for paranoia and racism. But if I could maybe make her realize that those she labels as Other have more in common with her than she realizes, and that her actions, even on something as innocuous as social media, have consequences…
Did it work? I don’t know. I doubt it. We were able to have a civil conversation, and I think maybe that threw her off a bit; but in the end, when she said to me “we’re on the same side,” I had to point out that no, we’re not. She voted for someone who’s antithetical to my way of existence. I don’t buy into a lot of her preconceptions about American exceptionalism and patriotism, and I certainly don’t buy into their ideas of racism and misogyny. It was an uncomfortable discussion, and frankly exhausting. And I worry that, in trying to reach out in that way, they might think I’m legitimizing their paranoia and their racism.
So yeah, what’s the point? Frankly, I would rather spend my time trying to help my friends who are truly at risk in this hostile environment than trying to find understanding with those who are merely uncomfortable about the changing complexion of our country. That makes me think of the adage about wrestling with a pig.
In any case, as a writer I’m trying to figure out what the role of my work is in a climate like this and whether it’s worth continuing. I’m also trying to negotiate the likelihood that my health coverage will evaporate next year and that the atmosphere is going to become a lot more hostile to people like me, but that’s another thing.
Actually, no. It’s the same thing. If this is the climate in which I have to tell stories, what will those stories be? Is it time to tell a different kind of story?
In the end, it seems, I can always find someone who has a better answer to these questions than I can seem to come up with. Toni Morrison said, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
I guess it’s time to get to work.
Wow, you made it all the way to the bottom. I’m hoping that means you got something out of this. If you know someone who might also find it interesting and fun, not stupid or boring, please pass it along. And if something struck a chord with you, good or bad, email me. I actually love email. Thanks!